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					                           FILM AND LITERATURE YEAR ONE

        FR 1090 ASPECTS OF MODERN GERMAN LITERATURE 2012-13

                      Worksheet for seminar Wednesday Week 4

Franz Kafka, In the Penal Settlement (1914)

The following are suggestions on how a discussion might be structured. They are not
meant to exclude other approaches.

1. GROUP A. Is it possible to formulate a politically orientated analysis of the text?
Can we be precise about the geographical and historical location of the narrative? Is
it possible to categorise precisely the values articulated and (putatively?)
                               1
represented by the traveller and the officer? Is this a straight confrontation between
European liberalism and oriental totalitarianism? Why is the explorer touched by the
“sincere conviction” of the officer? How might we interpret the traveller’s refusal to
take the soldier and the condemned man with him off the island? Can we read the
text as a critique of militarism? It was completed in October 1914.

2. GROUP B some critics favour a religious interpretation. Is it for instance possible
to interpret the significance of the machine’s judgements as a reflection of Christian
theory and practice? How valid is it to read the officer’s commitment to the machine
and the old regime, as blind faith, (bad faith), as a parody of faith? What significance
might notions of (self) sacrifice, redemption and resurrection have in this context?
Note that the instructions for the machine appear illegible, and that the writing (which
“can’t be a simple one”) produced on the body of the victim is in German Schrift, and
that in German the Bible, is called Die Heilige Schrift (the Holy Scripture). How might
we apply that to this story? Also, what significance might we attach to the
requirement that the victim is meant to experience his punishment “corporally, on his
person”. Do you see any parallels to Christ’s stigmata?

3. GROUP C. The machine (“a remarkable piece of apparatus”) is mentioned in the
very first sentence, which are often crucial in Kafka (viz. first sentences of
Metamorphosis and The Trial). What kind of machine is it? What is it supposed to do
precisely? Why doesn’t the officer’s revered machine work on/for him? Explore the
potential of seeing it as a symbol of technology, and can we see the officer as the
embodiment of technocracy? The OED definition of technocracy is: The control of
society by machines or technical experts; technocrat: a technologist exercising
administrative or executive power. The definition could also include the absence of
morality, the amoral belief that society should be run exclusively on administrative or
managerial grounds. How might you apply that to this narrative?


4. GROUP D How might one formulate an analysis in terms of the text’s
representations of notions of guilt (“is never to be doubted”), crime, justice (“Be just”)
and punishment? Does the draconian regime of justice and punishment, whose
demise is so regretted by the officer, have any parallels in the present?

                                                                              SB 17/10/2012




1
       Which epithet, ‘traveller’ or ‘explorer’, is in your view more appropriate?
                          FILM AND LITERATURE YEAR ONE

          FR 1090 ASPECTS OF MODERN GERMAN LITERATURE 2012-13

                       Worksheet for seminar Wednesday Week 5

Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis (1912)

The following are suggestions on how a discussion might be structured. They are not
meant to exclude other approaches.

1. Group A Gregor Samsa’s metamorphosis is clearly not a simple one, rather a
decline from totally human to totally animal identity, with certain key stages of
alternation from one form of identity to the other. See if it is possible to chart these
stages, e.g. on a graph. Or is GS already dehumanised before the beginning of the
narrated time? Can we apply the notion of alienation? 2 If so, what form of alienation:
subjective, social, political, alienation from the end product of one’s labour, alienation
from one’s species being, (vis-à-vis animals)? What function should work have in
relation to one’s human identity, what function does it have in GS’s life? What about
alienation from the family circle? How does G relate to his sister Grete, and how
does his sister relate to him? What perceptions do they have of each other? Ditto the
rest of the family and the other figures. Try to formulate a Marxist analysis of the text,
using concepts such as alienation, capitalism, reification, internalisation, petty
bourgeois mentality.

2. GROUP B Metamorphosis as a study in self-sacrifice/martyrdom. What
motivates GS to do a job of such drudgery? Is it possible to read this text as a
critique of religious belief? Are other key concepts apposite here, e.g. faith,
redemption? What parallels are there in this regard with In the Penal Settlement?

3. GROUP C Some critics have interpreted the story as an anti-fairy tale. Thinks
about the ingredients of a classic fairy tale, e.g. Grimms’ Fairy tales, narratives which
have a central place in German upbringing. Think about the place of animals within
such forms (Little Red Riding Hood?) and the common motif of anthropomorphising
animals. What function do animals have in fairy tales? Are they usually the
embodiment of good or evil? In this context, why could regard Meta as an anti-fairy
tale?

4. GROUP D Narrative technique and perspective are key aspects of Kafka’s
writing. Analyse Meta from this point of view. What kind of third-person narrative is
this? Are we dealing with an orthodox omniscient narrator? Are there any examples
of free indirect style (stil indirect libre) i.e. where the text appears to be third person
narrative but is on closer inspection the inner thoughts of the central character? Is
the story told from a detached point of view, or does the narrator take Gregor
Samsa’s side, narrate events from his perspective? If we can start to relate this
aspect to the broader issues of what constitutes realism and in what sense Kafka’s
texts exemplify modernist narrative strategies, and a modernist view of the world 3,
this would be all to the good.
                                                        SB 17/10/2012


2
        Look up various definitions of ‘alienation’ on the web and reflect on how to apply to them to
Gregor Samsa’s situation.
3
        Look up the definition of modernism in M.H.Abrams A Glossary of Literary Terms

				
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